Assam ferry tragedy toll feared to be 270
Officials say chances of finding survivors remote as second day goes by without single rescue
Monday’s Assam ferry tragedy in Dhubri district is turning out to be India’s worst ferry accident and the toll is estimated to be around 270, as search and rescue parties failed to find a single survivor yesterday.
During the operation on Monday, only 80 people were rescued and most of the estimated 350 passengers continued to be listed as missing till yesterday evening.
“Some bodies were fished out late on Monday night, but it is difficult to estimate the actual toll as relatives of the deceased have taken the bodies home for burial,” said a district administration official, adding that only 17 bodies have been sent for post-mortem.
Another official said that the chances of finding any survivors are bleak, as almost 24 hours have passed since the accident. According to some survivors, most of the passengers on the ferry were women and children. “We are yet to ascertain the exact number of people on the ferry. As per our information, about 240 passengers bought tickets, but there were some without tickets,” said the official.
A Border Security Force (BSF) official overseeing the rescue operations said that the bodies might have floated downstream. “We have been continuing rescue operations since last evening. However, there is a strong undercurrent and the bodies might have been washed away. We are going to continue searching till evening,” S Kumar said.
All border outposts of BSF’s 22 and 162 battalions along the Brahmaputra have been told to look out for bodies.
BSF has also informed the Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) at Dhaka and word has been sent to its sector commander at Rangpur and battalion commander at Kurigram about the situation.
Apart from 20 BSF divers, the district administration also called in helicopters to step up the search operation yesterday morning.
Senior cabinet ministers Chandan Brahma and Nazrul Islam rushed to the Fakirganj area on Tuesday morning to take stock of the situation.
“We have already arranged for sophisticated motor launches to ply between Dhubri and Fakirganj and they will arrive by next week,” Brahma said.
He added that the government has also sanctioned a bridge over the Brahmaputra to connect Jaleswar and Dhubri.
PM, Assam govt announce compensation
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who is a Rajya Sabha MP from Assam, expressed shock over the tragedy and announced a compensation of Rs 2 lakh each for the next of kin of the deceased. The Assam government announced ex-gratia payment of Rs 1.5 lakh each to the next of kin of the victims.
They will also get Rs 50,000 each from the Mukhya Mantrir Jibanjyoti Bima Achoni, a state government life insurance scheme. The state government also announced that those seriously injured would be given Rs 50,000 each, besides free treatment for all victims. All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) chief Badaruddin Ajmal announced that the party would contribute Rs 2 crore for victims of the tragedy. All 18 legislators of the AIUDF have agreed to contribute one month’s salary towards the welfare of the victims.